In the opening scene of Wristcutters we see twentysomething Zia (Patrick Fugit) cleaning his room for what appears to be the first time in ages; it’s also the last. He isn’t straightening up for a guest or for the hell of it but rather to leave a clean room behind when he slits his wrist moments later. Cut to Kamikaze Pizza the restaurant where Zia works in what he thinks is purgatory. The only way in is by committing suicide and the only way out is if there was a mismanagement in your death circumstances and you wound up there by accident. Zia hates every second of it and is happy to find someone in Eugene (Shea Whigham) with whom he can commiserate over beers at the local dive bar—which is really the only place to go anyway. The afterlife brightens up even further when Zia gets word that his ex-girlfriend back on Earth Desiree (Leslie Bibb) has offed herself too and is er descending upon the area. So Zia and Eugene go on a road trip through the most desolate highways and byways you’ve never seen in an attempt to track down Zia’s lone post-suicide regret. Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon) who believes she’s there by mistake as well as a very twisted sort of enlightenment. It’s always impressive when actors are able to acutely grasp the most complex scripts and their subtext (i.e. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and the gang from Wristcutters is in that rare company. Fugit who broke out in 2000’s Almost Famous and has remained well under the radar since is the oddest of protagonists—a suicide “victim ” if you will whose afterlife you’re rooting for—and it’s hard to think of another actor who could pull off what he does here. It's because he’s somehow compellingly blasé which is obviously no easy feat and is clearly as lost post-life as he was during it. Sossamon (A Knight's Tale) is spunky quirky and unpredictable in a way that’ll be as attractive to viewers as it is to Zia. There really is something troubled and normal about her character that adds potential validity to Mikal’s claims of not belonging in this apparent purgatory. Rising star Whigham (All the Real Girls) as the heavily Russian Eugene rounds out the trio of roadtrippers with initial comic relief followed later by dramatic relief. Two of the more Bizarro performances we’ve seen in a long time come appropriately from a flying Tom Waits (whose record Zia puts on in the opening scene to die to) and Will Arnett possibly as the messiah. Who needs a huge budget when you have a huge imagination like Wristcutters’ Croatian writer/director Goran Dukic does? And what a perfect premise to have no money for because the afterlife he dreams up is a wasteland of nothingness where traffic-less roads stretch forever possibly as a punishment. But it’s not all about visuals or lack thereof in this adaptation of an Israeli short story (Kneller’s Happy Campers) by Etgar Keret even though the film’s most arresting scene features a deserted beach at sunset. See Wristcutters is a genuine romantic comedy under the guise of a grim deed and ramshackle no-budget “indie-ness”: The comedy is everywhere albeit very dry and romance is something of a Holy Grail for which the characters are unwittingly searching. But don’t write off Dukic’s effort as whimsical or obtuse because after some (literally) supernatural twists towards the end Wristcutters turns profound—in a way that is wholly unpretentious and thus surprising for an independent film.
Two of the most prestigious independent film communities have recently each given their stamp of approval on independent cinema both past and future. Nominees for the 2006 Independent Spirit Awards were announced as was the lineup for the independent feature film and world cinema competitions for next year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Although each organization acknowledge and reward independent filmmaking, the two fetes are quite different. The Spirit Awards are more of a conventional awards show, which will be handed out March 4 in Santa Monica, California [for full coverage on the Spirit Award nominations, click here].
The Sundance Awards are the culmination of the 10-day festival (Jan. 19-29 in Park City, Utah) that showcases the films in contention for awards. Next year’s Sundance Film Festival lineup marks a return of sorts to the fest’s roots, by giving way to more fresh faces. The total number of submissions increased, resulting in a different and exciting format--the expansion of the world competition to include more international films.
Below are the films to be shown in the four competition sections:
American Dramatic Competition A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (Director, screenwriter: Dito Montiel) Come Early Morning (Director, screenwriter: Joey Lauren Adams) Flannel Pajamas (Director, screenwriter: Jeff Lipsky) Forgiven (Director, screenwriter: Paul Fitzgerald) Half Nelson (Director: Ryan Fleck; screenwriters: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck) Hawk Is Dying (Director: Julian Goldberger; screenwriters: Harry Crews (novel), Julian Goldberger) In Between Days (Director: So Yong Kim; screenwriters: So Yong Kim, Bradley Rust Gray) Puccini for Beginners (Director, screenwriter: Maria Maggenti) Quinceanera (Director/screenwriters: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland) Right at Your Door (Director, screenwriter: Chris Gorak) Sherrybaby (Director, screenwriter: Laurie Collyer) Somebodies (Director, screenwriter: Hadjii) Stay (Director, screenwriter: Bob Goldthwait) Steel City (Director, screenwriter: Brian Jun) Stephanie Daley (Director, screenwriter: Hilary Brougher) Wristcutters: A Love Story (Director: Goran Dukic; screenwriters: Goran Dukic, Etgar Kerett)
American Documentary Competition:
A Lion in the House (Directors: Steven Bogner, Julia Reichert) American Blackout (Director: Ian Inaba) An Unreasonable Man (Directors: Henriette Mantel, Stephen Skrovan) Crossing Arizona (Director: Joseph Mathew) God Grew Tired of Us (Director: Christopher Quinn) Ground Truth: After the Killing Ends (Director: Patricia Foulkrod) Iraq in Fragments (Director: James Longley) Small Town Gay Bar (Director: Malcom Ingram) So Much So Fast (Directors: Steven Ascher, Jeanne Jordan) Thin (Director: Lauren Greenfield) 'Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris (Director: Raymond De Felitta) The Trials of Darryl Hunt (Directors: Ricki Stern, Annie Sundberg) TV Junkie (Director: Michael Cain) Wide Awake (Director: Alan Berliner) Wordplay (Director: Patrick Creadon) The World According to Sesame Street (Directors: Linda Goldstein Knowlton, Linda Hawkins Costigan)
World Cinema Dramatic Competition 13 Tzameti (Director, screenwriter: Gela Babluani), France Allegro (Director: Christoffer Boe; screenwriters: Christoffer Boe, Mikael Wulff), Denmark The Aura (Director, screenwriter: Fabian Bielinsky), Argentina The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros (Director: Auraeus Solito; screenwriter: Michiko Yamamoto), Philippines Eve & The Fire Horse (Director, screenwriter: Julia Kwan), Canada Grbavica (Director, screenwriter: Jasmila Zbanic), Bosnia-Herzegovina The House of Sand (Director: Andrucha Waddington; screenwriter: Elena Soarez), Brazil Kiss Me Not on the Eyes (Director, screenwriter: Jocelyne Saab), Lebanon Little Red Flowers (Director: Zhang Yuan; Screenwriters: Ning Dai, Zhang Yuan), China Madeinusa (Director, screenwriter: Claudia Llosa), Peru No. 2 (Director, screenwriter: Toa Fraser), New Zealand One Last Dance (Director, screenwriter: Max Makowski), Singapore The Peter Pan Formula (Director, screenwriter: Cho Chan-Ho), South Korea Princesas (Director, screenwriter: Fernando Leon de Aranoa), Spain Solo Dios Sabe (Director: Carlos Bolado; screenwriters: Carlos Bolado, Diane Weipert), Brazil/Mexico Son of Man (Director: Mark Dornford-May; screenwriters: Mark Dornford-May, Andiswa Kedama, Pauline Malefane), South Africa
World Cinema Documentary Competition 5 Days (Director: Yoav Shamir), Israel Angry Monk--Reflections on Tibet (Director: Luc Schaedler), Switzerland Black Gold (Director: Marc Francis, Nick Francis), U.K. By the Ways, a Journey with William Eggleston (Directors: Cedric Laty, Vincent Gerard), France Dear Pyongyang (Director: Yang Yonghi), Japan The Giant Buddhas (Director: Christian Frei), Switzerland Glastonbury (Director: Julien Temple), U.K. I is for India (Director: Sandhya Suri), England/Germany/Italy In the Pit (Director: Juan Carlos Rulfo), Mexico Into Great Silence (Director: Philip Groening), Germany Kz (Director: Rex Bloomstein), U.K. No One (Director: Tin Dirdamal), Mexico The Short Life of Jose Antonio Gutierrez (Director: Heidi Specogna), Germany Songbirds (Director: Brian Hill), U.K. Unfolding Florence: The Many Lives of Florence Broadhurst (Director: Gillian Armstrong), Australia Viva Zapatero (Director: Sabina Guzzanti), Italy